The best of the best are in their own special class – and their own special world.
What They Say
At age six, Hikari Hanazono was the best at everything, so when she challenged Kei Takishima to a wrestling match, she naturally assumed she would win. Unfortunately, she lost, he won, and the natural order was disrupted. Ever since, Hikari's entire life has been structured around beating Kei at SOMETHING. Unfortunately, try as she might Hikari always comes up just short.
Now he's the top student and athlete at their very exclusive high school and she's right beneath him at number two, (a position that is still, of course, completely unacceptable.) And, just to complicate matters further, even as Hikari dedicates her life to somehow one-upping Kei, she's completely oblivious to the fact that Kei is actually in love with her!
Contains episodes 1-12.
Special A has a fairly standard presentation for a Sentai Filmworks release in that it only has the original Japanese language track, in stereo, encoded at 224kbps. The series doesn't have much to offer with its audio as it's mostly all dialogue and ambient silly effects at times that have a full sound to them without any real discernable directionality or placement. With this kind of show that isn't all that big of an issue as the dialogue does come across well and it fits well with the material as the energy of the actors is what sells it. We didn't have any problems with dropouts, distortions or noise during regular playback of this show.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. There are twelve episodes for this collection that are spread across two discs in a six/six split. The series has a very good colorful and vibrant look to it that provides for a very pleasing transfer overall. Colors look great with a solid feel throughout, even during the few night scenes with the deep blue skies. Backgrounds hold up well with only a bit of noise here and there to distract once in awhile. There are a few scenes across the set where the characters are small in the background and you can see some cross coloration introduced into it, but it's not that often and not terribly distracting unless you're looking for it. Special A has a good clean and colorful look to it and this transfer shows it off well.
Special A goes with the gro9up shot for its cover with all seven of the class together with big smiles on their face as they all press against each other. Set against the school in the background, which is pretty small overall, the focus is on the characters and their designs look really sharp and detailed. The logo is a big awkward along the lower right corner if only because the show is called S.A. and that's just hard to really place and promote in a way that captures your eye. I do appreciate that they kept the original logo but it's one that they could have gotten away with doing something a bit more original with in order to sell it. The back cover goes with a bit of an elegant framing around most of it in which they have several small shots from the show and a large group shot of everyone in their kimono's through the center. Above that is a very text heavy summary of the premise of the show, almost too much text considering the overall simplicity of it. It's like they're trying too hard to sell it. The bottom third of the cover has the standard production credits and technical grid which covers everything in a clear and easy to read form so you know exactly what's on the disc. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for Special A are pretty straightforward and fairly bland as they do the static menu approach in a way where it’s almost a little overpowering with the layout. The framing is done in a faux letterbox style with orange along the top and bottom while in the middle of it is the same framing as the back cover and the same kind of light soft colors for the background. Character artwork from the back cover is partially used here as well with different pieces for each volume that look alright, but the main focus is on the big block of episode numbers through the middle which dominate things a bit. Previously we’d have them in a list similar to this but also basic menu selection, credits and special features or trailers. Everything is compressed down to juts episode selection and special features, and on the first disc there are none in there. Credits and trailers are not special features. But this is part of the compressing of things to save on time and expense likely in creating separate submenus for these sections that some will find pointless. The menus do load quickly for what little you have to use them and they’re serviceable, but it feels more like a barebones release than some previous ones we’ve seen.
The extras on the second disc go a bit beyond the norm as in addition to the clean opening and closing sequence there is also a gallery. The gallery isn't the usual black and white character pieces but rather about a dozen full color pieces that look to be from the original Japanese releases. These look great with a lot of bright and colorful pieces that really capture the characters well and the sense of fun from it.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Maki Manami, Special A is a twenty-four episode high school series about a small group of exceptional students who are in a special class all of their own in their school. The manga has been doing fairly well for Viz Media in its US release so there's a lot of sense in grabbing the anime series itself and appealing to those fans and those that like somewhat silly high school comedies. Special A takes a pretty standard formula and works pretty well with it, but it's the kind of show that doesn't really stand out or take any chances.
Taking place at the Hakusen Academy, we're introduced quickly right off the bat to the seven members of the Special Class, a group of students who excel above and beyond everyone else. So much so that their class is set in a separate area and we never actually see them doing anything scholastic related. They spend a lot of their time in the indoor garden and off doing various competitive things as the group has a lot of that going around, especially among the top two students. The top student is Kei, a very calm and cool young man who comes from a business family where he does a whole lot of work after school on top of everything else. He's primarily in competition with Hikari, who he nicknames Second Place throughout the series as she always seems to land there during all of their competitions, from school placement to sports and to everything else. Throughout the show so far, she never manages to get one up on him as he always has an ace up his sleeve.
As can be told pretty quickly, there's a potential relationship between Kei and Hikari just below the surface. The two of them have been in competition with each other since they were little kids when their parents introduced them and that competitiveness continues to this day. Hikari only views herself as Kei's rival and does all she can to finally beat him at something, especially in class placement since she wants to be above him there. But for Kei, you can see very easily in his face that he has feelings for Hikari, though he certainly loves to tease and torment her with that competitive side. As the story progresses he's a bit more up front about it, especially when a childhood friend turned adversary starts manipulating the situation and telling Hikari how Kei really feels about her, or at least setting up situations where she realizes it herself.
Most of the stories here are fairly straightforward and are the kinds you see in shows like this. The gang heads off to Hawaii at one point, another episode has Hikari taking on the role of a fake girlfriend for one of the other guys in the special class so he can avoid a marriage meeting and a number of competitive episodes. There's even one where Hikari spends all of it working hard to learn to cook so she can make something that will surprise Kei. Where the show changes things up a little bit is when Yahiro comes into the picture as well as his younger brother that takes a real liking to Hikari. It gets some of the adversarial side into the show between Yahiro and Kei and helps to push Kei more towards being honest about his feelings.
Special A plays out like a lot of shows in this particular genre where it's very bright and colorful, full of promise. It has a very clean look, too clean of course, but that's part of the whole premise. These kids live in a different world where several of them are from very wealthy families and are attending a prestigious schol and are in the best of the best classes. There is some underlying tension that comes into the show a few times with a few students who are part of the regular classes and the overall student body president who tries to get even with the special class and that adds a nice element to the show. Often you find shows like these where there's no resentment at all and only adoration. There is adoration to be had here and Hikari sometimes finds it unnerving but it's when the guys gets involved with voicing their discontent that we get a small flash of goodness in the show.
Special A felt really mediocre overall throughout it. When the show opens with little in the way of a real setup, instead just running through the seven special class members quickly and getting into things, it felt like we were dropped into a show without a really unique hook. Their being in a special class wasn't enough. As the show progresses, you realize that the other five members of the class really don't have much impact overall and its main focus is on Kei and Hikari and the slowly burgeoning relationship. What struck me the most with this show is that as it got to the end of this set, it felt like it was more the end of the series than the halfway mark. Special A feels all played out by episode twelve and that doesn't bode well for the second half that's still to come.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Art Gallery, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.